Saturday, August 17, 2013

Islip Ridge Trail Work with the Trailbuilders - August 17, 2013

View Northeast Islip Ridge toward Mt. Islip
I’ve not been out on the trail much this summer as I’ve been focused on a project at the house. So when the email came announcing this Saturday’s projects with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, I decided to take a break from the house renovation and head for the high country. There is to be two crews for today. A chainsaw crew would leave early and head up to remove deadfalls above Little Jimmy Trail Camp and on Big Cienega Trail. The other crew would meet at the regular 8 a.m. time and do some tasks at Rincon and then up to Crystal Lake. I opted for the early group.

Since I live a few blocks from Hwy 39 in Azusa, I made arrangements to be picked up at the corner of Hwy 39 and Ninth Street. At 6:25 a.m. I climb into Jonathan’s big red pickup truck and we head up San Gabriel Canyon to Rincon Ranger Station to pick up equipment. We rendezvous with Fred, Brian, Bob, Alan, and George. Alan decides to drive up to Crystal Lake to work on Big Cienega Trail from the lower end. The other six of us pile into the crew cab and head up the highway. A key and permission from the Forest Service allows us to drive on the closed section of Hwy 39 to reach Hwy 2 at Islip Saddle (6670’), saving a long drive up the Angeles Crest from La Canada. A few minutes east on Hwy 2 brings us to a locked gate and forest service road leading to Little Jimmy Trail Camp. A key and permission save us a bunch of extra hiking to get to our work site.

Trailbuilders at Little Jimmy Trail Camp
8:15 a.m. - Arrive at Little Jimmy Trial Camp (7450’). There is only one group here today: a Boy Scout troop from Corona. I’m always amazed that such a splendid campground can be so sparely used on a fare-weather weekend. After we gear up, Fred drives the truck back to Crystal Lake as we five hit the trail.

8:35 - Leave little Jimmy on the Pacific Crest Trail heading southeast 0.3 mile to Windy Gap. It’s a beautiful day with clear skies, mild temps, pleasant breezes, and the sweet aromas of the forest. I love this high country and am thankful that the gallant fire-fighting efforts kept the 2002 Curve Fire from coming over the ridge from the Crystal Lake Basin and destroying this forest too. Majestic pine, cedar, and fir reach into the deep blue sky.

Windy Gap
8:49 - Windy Gap (7588’). It’s windy here, as always. Jonathan and Brian admire their handiwork, having carved some fine log benches last year. I reflect on being here on September 3, 2012 on the tenth anniversary of the Curve Fire. On that day I was surrounded by thick, acrid smoke from the Williams Fire 2012, which started the day before (read about my adventure here: Hawkins Ridge Hike - September 2-3, 2012). Today, however, the air is clear and the vistas are superb. We linger about 10 minutes then proceed about 200 yards up the trail heading west to Mt. Islip to tackle our first project for the day.

Trailbuilders removing a deadfall on Mt. Islip Trail
9:00 - Deadfall. Our task is to remove a large white fir which was fallen across the trail. Jonathan, Brian, and Bob are certified with the U.S. Forest Service as chainsaw operators. George and I are along to help carry equipment, swamping (clearing branches and debris as the crew saws), and general trail repair. After assessing the task, the sawyers make quick work of cutting off limbs, cutting through the trunk, and clearing the trail. We complete the task in 45 minutes and proceed up the trial toward Mt. Islp.

I am thoroughly enjoying the beauty of this high country. Wildflowers grace the landscape while towering ridges rut into the sky. It’s quiet and peaceful here. I look across the vast heart of the rugged San Gabriels and familiar mountain peaks elicit memories of many adventures. The distant Los Angeles basin filling the southern panorama is muted by marine haze.

Junction to Islip Ridge Trail
10:38 - Junction on the southern flank of Mt. Islip (8080’) To the right the trial proceeds 0.1 mile to the summit of Mt. Islip. To the left (southwest), Islip Ridge Trail descends the ridge 0.8 mile to Big Cienega Trail junction and then another 3.9 miles to Crystal Lake. We rest here for a few minutes. A party of several hikers passes by on their way to the summit. These are the only ones we’ve encountered on the trail so far. Again, I am amazed at how few people are partaking of these fine trails and specular scenery on this gorgeous Saturday. It’s a striking contrast to the many hundreds who will be swarming the trails of Mt. Baldy and Icehouse Canyon today.

View southeast into Crystal Lake Basin from Islip Ridge Trail
Our sawyers head down Islip Ridge Trail as George and I linger for a while and enjoy good conversation and the beauty of the setting. As we descend I reflect on the great hike I had coming up this ridge a year ago July and my encounter with a herd of bighorn sheep. No sheep today…just hoof prints and scat. I look northwest toward Will Thrall Peak and Pallett Mt. and think about my plans to climb them before the season turns. I love the beauty of this breathtaking scenery. I stop occasionally and my use my McLeod (half rake/half hoe) to do light trial work.

Big Cienega Trail junctiton
12:10 - Big Cienega Trail junction. From here we turn northeast to follow the trail as it descends into the upper reaches of the Crystal Lake Basin. Devastation from the 2002 Curve Fire abounds. Most of the forest around us here is dominate by dead tree trunks rutting into sky and laying on the ground.

12:16 - Work site. A jumble of several large tree trunks blocks the path. The chainsaw gang has already begun work. It takes some training and experience in assessing the best plan of attack in dismantling this tangle of timber. Piece by piece we cut and clear and are able to complete the chainsaw work by 1 p.m. (the time set by the Forest Service to cease use of chainsaws). We finish muscling the remaining logs off the path then break for lunch. Fred arrives and appreciates our work.
Trailbuilders removing deadfalls on Big Cienega TrailBefore Big Cienega Trail restored by Trailbuilders
1:45 - Leave the site and head down the trail. Soon we reach Alan, who has done an amazing job working a substantial section of trail. We continue down the trail through varied landscape and surround by towering ridges and rugged beauty.

San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders after a day of work
2:52 - Arrive at the truck that Fred parked on the South Mt. Hawkins Road. We are hot, tired, and dirty, but the satisfaction of a job well done makes it worth it. We are eager to pile into the truck and leave. Soon we rendezvous with our leader, Ben White, and others who came up later. An ice chest of cold drinks is so welcome!

Epilog - What a productive and fulfilling day! Beautiful weather, meaningful work, hearty exercise, spectacular scenery, rewarding four-mile hike, and great camaraderie swapping stories and just enjoying the companionship of good folks who love the outdoors. If you’d like to get in on the fun, come out and spend a day with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders. Everyone is welcome. Workdays are on the first, third, and fifth Saturdays of each month. Visit the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders website to learn more. icon


  1. I just hiked for the first time around the Islip area yesterday. It was great!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Great report, Dan.

    Little Jimmy actually gets pretty heavy use. If you're there on a Saturday night, the place is packed. Saturday morning a lot of the time it's empty.